PARIS, France — Contrarian designer Hedi Slimane, whose Celine debut attracted the fury of Phoebe Philo loyalists, has been compared to US President Donald Trump and accused of misogyny, with some critics branding his collection a "gust of toxic masculinity."
The reaction took place as political unrest and a new wave of feminism are coursing through Western society, with women regularly proclaiming that women, by definition, design best for other women. It's as if Cristóbal Balenciaga didn't exist, Alber Elbaz at Lanvin never happened, and Pierpaolo Piccioli at Valentino hasn't been producing some of the strongest collections season after season while his former partner Maria Grazia Chiuri — initially heralded as a breath of fresh air, the first female creative director at Dior (finally!) — struggles to create something meaningful. Quite the opposite: her soulless streetwear-style logos, distracting show sets, wildly aggressive influencer campaigns and feminist T-shirts actually seem to betray a lack of vision.
Some of the anger towards Slimane is understandable. He drastically changed the aesthetic of a much-loved brand and symbol of female empowerment, and he wasn’t particularly creative in the way he went about it. But if we are to label him a misogynist, then we should throw other "sexy" designers such as Anthony Vaccarello and Alexandre Vauthier under the bus as well.
Not all women are Philophiles. Some of us, at all ages, actually enjoy wearing miniskirts.
In summarising the Spring/Summer 2019 season, fashion critics such as Robin Givhan for The Washington Post used a heavy feminist lens when evaluating the new Celine, reaching the conclusion that today's fashion doesn't speak to “women with work to do and a life to live.” How ironic, when many of the current collections, from Loewe and Sies Marjan to Givenchy, were fairly modest, conservative and oversized. What about that parade of loosely tailored suits? Are those not for work? In fact, there was very little skin on show this season.
Reviewing Rick Owens’ Spring/Summer 2019 collection for Vogue.com, Nicole Phelps angled her entire piece around the US Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, an accused sexual predator. Yes, it was a relevant backdrop for an American audience, but Owens’ show dealt with the sense of nihilism and existential struggle facing humanity at large — not just women.
We all have a lot to be upset about — including but not only women’s fury at the patriarchy. In interpreting Owens' collection through the lens of Kavanaugh, Phelps forgot about the many other reasons for which people suffer: poverty, illness, heartbreak, natural disasters.
Women are rightly angry at the overwhelming demands placed on us. How often do women say to themselves: “I’d love to be able to wear that”? (Answer: Often.) To dress sexy, you have to feel sexy and unburdened, and this usually comes with spending a great deal of time and effort taking care of yourself. Succeeding in one’s career and having a family also requires a great deal of time and effort.
This is where I believe the cognitive dissonance comes from for many modern women: on some level, many feel they have to abandon one woman to become the other. For some, seeing a former self — or any suggestion of “this is what you should look like” — pisses us off due to the frustrating impossibility of it all. Phoebe’s Celine was like a missing puzzle piece: the clothes that made us feel like we could finally have it all.
But while fashion reflects society, we've taken it a step too far with our attacks on designers like Slimane. We risk not only castrating creativity, but actually alienating a significant portion of the female fashion market. Not all women are Philophiles. Some of us, at all ages, actually enjoy wearing miniskirts. It’s no surprise that women such as Emily Ratajkowski, who amp up their sexuality while declaring their feminist stance, are heavily criticised.
It ought to be less about gender and politics, and more about personal values.
But equality doesn’t mean androgyny. And while female designers like Donatella Versace create sexy clothes for women, male designers like Jonathan Anderson create more modest and cerebral options. It ought to be less about gender and politics, and more about personal values.
Of course, some feminists say that many women don’t even realise that we dress for the male gaze, that we have subconsciously internalised misogyny. But allowing ourselves choice — the choice to be sexy if and when we want to, while having our rights respected (as well as the choice to wear a jersey, jeans and trainers without our mothers telling us to “go put on a nice dress”) — is the only kind of feminism worth supporting.
As Slimane said in a statement to French television journalist Loïc Prigent: “Does this mean women are no longer free to wear miniskirts if they wish? The comparisons to Trump are opportunistic, rather bold and fairly comical, just because the young women in my show are liberated and carefree. They are free to dress as they see fit.”
The fashion industry doesn’t deserve women’s anger. It supplies us with our daily armour. And these days, there’s something for everyone.
Anabel Maldonado is a London-based fashion journalist.
The views expressed in Op-Ed pieces are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Business of Fashion.